I strongly suspected things would go pear-shaped sooner rather than later this season, but the speed and manner in which everything unravelled was extraordinary. Barring 45 minutes versus Leeds and half an hour against Newcastle, United have been uniformly abject since August. The notion we’d reached a new low by conceding 5 at home to Liverpool was quickly scuppered by the most decrepit Derby performance I’ve ever seen in person. For benchmarking purposes, note I was present at both the 5-1 at Maine Road and the 6-1 at Old Trafford. As far as worst ever months go, this is right up there.
Games have resembled car crashes in recent weeks. Ronaldo has managed to pull his teammates from the wreckage on a handful of occasions, but more often than not he’s been a traumatised bystander trying to make sense of the carnage in front of him. Quite what has happened to Shaw and Maguire since the Euros is inexplicable. They’ve not just suffered a drop in form, it’s been more of a plummet from several thousand feet. The level of ineptitude on display from the pair has been staggering at times, rivalling anything witnessed in the post-Ferguson era.
Sadly, Ole is done. There was no coming back from what’s happened over the last couple of months and his departure was inevitable. Functioning football clubs would have cut him loose ahead of the funeral pyre at Watford, but this is Manchester (United) and to borrow the words of Tony Wilson, “we do things differently here”. I said a couple of issues back we would regret that 3 year contract and I take no pleasure in being proved right. If I could foresee that, why couldn’t anyone with any authority at the club? Solskjaer had 12 months left on his deal and flunked his biggest test to date in Gdańsk spectacularly, yet Woodward decided the time was right to offer him a new contract. It’s mind blowing, really.
There’s no ire directed at Ole here. He made some progress in developing the squad and took things as far as he could. At times it looked like his methods were paying dividends but the next setback was always around the corner. Despite numerous encouraging signs and tantalising glimpses of consistency developing, United still resemble a collection of expensively assembled individuals as opposed to a football team. It sounds harsh, but it’s difficult to ascertain precisely what influence the coaching staff has over the players. Solskjaer clearly tried his best but ultimately, that alone was not enough.
The idea of accepting the manager was out of his depth yet still being respectful and supportive of the guy proved beyond some people, unfortunately. As the banner spotted in Bergamo correctly asserted, ‘the rot starts at the top’. Despite being fully aware of this, the risible fancam clowns continued to round on Solskjaer with each defeat leading to a fresh round of insults and oleout hashtags. Monetising the misery and inviting toxicity into what was already an embarrassing state of affairs for everyone connected with the club.
It got so bad that a sizeable proportion of the club’s younger online fanbase declared outright war on the likes of you and I. According to a large minority of twitter gobshites, matchgoers were a major contributor to United’s problems because they were guilty of actively supporting the club. There’s no room for nuance or perspective with these lads. The hardline stance they took was admirably bonkers as even wanting United to win became frowned upon. If you weren’t hurling abuse and hanging effigies of Solskjaer off the Stretford End, you were basically a Glazer collaborator.
This isn’t a dig at all United’s overseas supporters. Plenty are knowledgeable and dedicated and have followed the club for years. That said, a large number of the idiots spouting utter drivel on social media currently are deluded if they think their opinion counts for shit. Let’s put it this way: I could quite easily declare myself a diehard fan of the Chicago Bulls tomorrow. I could buy loads of merchandise, join online forums and get up at 3am every week to watch their games. I might become quite opinionated and be able to hold my own in conversation after a while.
To be clear, my disdain for the eReds has nothing to do with age, geography or race. Football is a global sport and United are proud to boast a fanbase from all over the world. Everybody is welcome. However, cultural appropriation is a thing too. Even if I dedicated every waking hour to agonising over the fortunes of the Chicago Bulls, would I ever feel emboldened enough to lecture Illinois locals on how to support their team? Not a chance. Because no matter how hard I tried to become an authority on the intricacies of the NBA and US basketball, I’d always be some English dickhead talking out of his arse.
The precise timing of Solskjaer’s departure was irrelevant and targeting him for abuse would have served no purpose whatsoever. At some point in the coming months we’ll see Zidane, ten Hag or Rodgers appointed and that’ll signal the whole cycle beginning again. No matter who replaces Ole, he’ll inherit a similar set of problems due to the serial incompetence of key decision makers at boardroom level. Despite the supposed ‘cultural reboot’ that took place a year ago, there still appears to be a jarring disconnect between the football and commercial ambitions of the club.
This brings me back to the time-honoured tradition of slagging off Paul Pogba. I know, I’m bored of talking about him too and I sincerely hope it won’t be for much longer. Why on earth are the club still offering a new contract when he’s no longer even worthy of a starting role? The fact he’s now holed up in Dubai infinitely (again) comes as no surprise whatsoever. Imagine being so deluded that you still believe the clown will actually start delivering at some point. I have no idea what he offers the club other than the fact he’s a walking meme who’s unfathomably popular with the kind of fan who provides app downloads and endless re-tweets.
The Jesse Lingard situation highlights another case of financial negligence. After enjoying a career renaissance during his loan spell at West Ham, the player’s stock was probably at an all-time high. The club resisted a number of offers in the summer yet now face the prospect of losing him for free. Lingard was never going to start games so what was the logic in keeping him another year to sit on the bench? Is anyone accountable for these decisions at any point? Don’t even get me started on the subject of Donny van de Beek.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. With the club on the crest of a slump, there was media CEO Phil Lynch waxing lyrical about United’s use of fan sentiment graphs to gauge player approval rates. We’ve just shipped 7 goals at home to Liverpool and City and they’ve got analysts checking on the feelings of faceless bots and impressionable kids. Rather than racking their brains and frantically composing damage limiting tweets, the people in charge of the club’s social media would be better advised to read the room and maintain a dignified silence for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it’s better just to say nothing.
It’s beyond them though. A few hours after Ole’s departure was announced, there was one final indignity in store as the club published a farewell interview with him looking tear-stained and utterly bereft. Hanging a club legend out on view like a discarded zoo attraction. Regardless of whether Solskjaer was a willing participant, it was a terrible idea which did nothing other than sate the appetite of any passing sadists looking for a quick thrill. It’s been said many times over the last few years, but one can’t over-emphasise the level of dysfunction that exists within this club at present. Widespread change is desperately required, irrespective of who’s sat in the dugout.
Copyright Red News – December 2021